Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony

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  • Often abbreviated as G.&E.I.C.
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Ellice Islands / Tuvalu Gilbert Islands / Kiribati

The Gilberts Gamble

Doris Rich, Amelia Earhart: A Biography, p. 273.
Her plan, he [Gene Vidal] said, was to hunt for Howland Island until she had four hours of fuel left, and then, if she had not located it, to turn back to the Gilbert Islands and land on a beach.
Ron Bright, Forum 16 October 2000
As you know from earlier postings after several months of hunting, the Assistant Archivist, Carl Hallberg, was unable to confirm the Doris Rich cite of Box 19, p. 97 reference to Vidal’s claim that Amelia told him (hearsay) that if she missed Howland, and still had four hours of fuel left, she would fly back to the Gilberts and land on a nice sandy beach. Numerous other authors cited Vidal’s claim but none provided specific cites except the "Vidal Collection", University of Wyoming.
Although Dustymiss and I tried to get Rich’s notes, who first reported them "discarded," Cam Warren finally obtained her notes, and, with that new information, found the reference in Box 40, pages 94-103; and sure enough, on page 96-97 there is Vidal’s recollection of Amelia’s intention. This is a lengthy "oral history" tape now transcribed. I am attempting to find out exactly when the tape was made, transcribed, and to whom it was made. (It was taped after the loss as it refers to Amelia’s remark that she was "running low" on gas when "she should have had 4 hours remaining.")
As Cam has pointed out that is only an insight into her possible plans, although no other contingency, e.g., Phoenix Islands is mentioned, at the planning stage of the second World Flight. Vidal was obviously close to Amelia, and he says he helped her with her route and maps. A lady can change her mind, and, of course, she was in "exigent" circumstances. Nevertheless, the Gilberts were a strong possibility, based on Vidal’s story. All of us realize that that doesn’t solve the "where" yet, but it confirms there are still records existing out there in archives, and museums that may lead to the solution.
Ric Gillespie, Forum, 20 October 2000
There are 16 islands in the archipelago know as the Gilbert Islands. They are distributed along a line that runs for about 425 nautical miles in a roughly northwest/southeast line some 500 nautical miles from Howland Island at the southeast end and 600 nm at the northwest end. The islands are not, of course, distributed evenly along that 425 mile line but are bunched in three groups -- the Northern, Central, and Southern Gilberts. Each of the "bunches" is separated by about 60 miles of open ocean. Within the Northern and Central Gilberts, the individual atolls are generally less than 25 miles apart. The seven atolls of the Southern Gilberts (those closest to Howland and laying across Earhart’s direct route) are more widely scattered, averaging more like 50 miles apart.
Now, we’re somewhere -- we don’t know where -- along a line that runs 157/337 degrees and passes through Howland Island. We know that we should have passed over or near one of the atolls of the Southern Gilberts during the night but that’s just a supposition. Even if the weather was free of clouds, it was dark, the islanders don’t have electricity. Chances are we couldn’t see anything down below and certainly not enough to identify a particular atoll.
All we know for sure is that Howland did not appear on schedule, so we must now be somewhere other than where we intended to be. We have fours of fuel left, enough to go another 520 nautical miles -- maybe a bit more if we were bucking a headwind on the way out and could pick up some tailwind going back west. We decide we’re going to turn back for the Gilberts. On what heading? The reciprocal of the one we followed to get here? If we’re south of where we should be and we just reverse course we could easily pass south of the whole Gilberts chain. Should we head due west? Remember that the Gilberts chain angles off to the northwest. If we’re north of where we should be we won’t have enough gas to get there. What if we get lucky and pick a heading that takes us toward the Southern Gilberts (the only ones we can theoretically reach)? We’ll have to be lucky enough to hit an island right on the nose because we’ll be just about out of gas when we get there.
In short, as an alternative to running on the LOP (which, after all, is what she said she was doing) heading back for the Gilberts would be incredibly stupid.